Back Comments (16) Share:
After waiting some time for a suitable candidate for another image comparison article, I was most pleased to learn of the imminent release of a new version of the director’s cut of Zhang Yimou’s breathtaking wuxia film, Hero.  As some of you know, the previous director’s cut release—from Chinese label Guang Dong Face—was seriously lacking in terms of image quality. To make matters worse, viewers watching the film with subtitles were forced to endure a horrendous distributor logo, which popped up in the top left corner of the screen roughly every ten minutes. Thankfully our friends at EDKO Video Ltd. have come to the rescue with a disc that closely mirrors their release of the theatrical cut of the film, albeit a single disc affair. That’s right, there are no extras to speak of on the new disc, but this has allowed for the inclusion of both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES Discrete tracks (the latter of which is the full 1536Kbps affair). The video also maintains a consistently high average bitrate of 9.3Mbps, as opposed to the somewhat lacklustre 4.75Mbps of the Face release (although this is the DVD5 version—the DVD9 release is reportedly a little under 7Mbps).

Below are a series of shots that take into consideration the many varied locations and colour schemes used throughout the film, which hopefully demonstrate the vast differences between the two transfers. In all instances, the top image represents the Guang Dong Face release, with the EDKO release on the bottom.

Opening Titles



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
As you can see, the major failing of the Face release was the omission of an English translation for the opening and closing titles. Unfortunately this means that anyone watching the film for the first time will miss out on vital plot-points that help to make sense of the events in the film. Indeed, the Face release was the first version of Hero I saw, and I actually had to resort to browsing the ‘net in order to get the translation. Thankfully the EDKO release offers clear English translations for the opening and closing titles, but strangely there are no Chinese subtitles for these sequences.

Nameless Approaches the Palace



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
When looking at the first of these images, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was a particularly rainy day in ancient China. It’s only when compared to the new EDKO release that we see how bad the Face transfer really is. Colours are way off, it’s overexposed, and there are portions of the image that are completely obscured in shadow. It does contain slightly more picture information to the sides than the EDKO disc, but that’s hardly compensation.

The King of Qin



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
On first viewing, with nothing as a basis for comparison, this shot doesn’t look too bad. However, when you see it side by side with the EDKO transfer, the failings of the Face effort are all too apparent. The image is oversaturated, while contrast is so high it actually obscures background detail.

Nameless vs. Sky



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
This scene shows only subtle differences between the transfers, but they are there. Notice how bright the faces of the characters are in the Face transfer. The skin tones just aren’t realistic, and the sky also looks way too bright for a supposedly overcast day. Thankfully the EDKO release is much better all round.

Moon vs. the Archers



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Again, at first glance these images appear to be identical. However, closer inspection reveals that, once again, the contrast of the Face transfer is too high, and the image is terribly oversaturated. Once again, notice how much clearer the EDKO transfer is around the edges, and how much easier it is to pick out detail in the image.

Moon Confronts Flying Snow



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Yes, it’s another shameless excuse to show Zhang Ziyi, but it’s also an image the perfectly showcases the failing of the Face transfer to accurately render flesh tones. If Ziyi was going for the Kabuki look then the Face transfer would have been a success. As it is, the EDKO effort easily surpasses it in terms of colour rendition, contrast and level of detail. Once again we see that the Face release contains more picture information—particularly noticeable at the bottom of the screen on this occasion—but I still maintain that this is of little consequence given the problems with the transfer.

Nameless vs. Flying Snow



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
In this scene it appears as though an alien spacecraft is preparing to land on our heroes. Either that or the Face transfer has had the contrast boosted so much that virtually everything above the horizon has turned white… The EDKO release fairs much better, with clearly definable clouds in the sky and far more natural colour balance.

Moon Attacks Nameless



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Even in scenes such as this, where the differences at first appear to be negligible, the EDKO transfer wipes the floor with the Face effort. Taken on its own the Face transfer might be seen as perfectly acceptable—primarily because the boosted contrast is disguised by the fact the characters are dressed in white—but when seen side by side with the EDKO transfer it looks atrocious. Colour rendition, contrast, detail levels… they’re all superior in the second image.

Flying Snow vs. Broken Sword



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Argh, my eyes! You don’t need to see the EDKO transfer to know there is something plain wrong about this scene from the Face release. Every single criticism I’ve levied at the transfer so far is more applicable here than ever. The blooming in this image is so bad that the water looks completely unnatural, and as for the blue rocks… Thankfully the EDKO release does a much better job of handling the varied hues in the scene, and the individual streams of water flowing down the cliff face are now clearly discernable.

Moon Grieves



Top: Guang Dong Face
Bottom: EDKO Video Ltd.

Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Hero: Director's Cut Image Comparison
Of all of the images on this page, these are the hardest to tell apart. Close scrutiny reveals slightly better colour rendition and contrast in the EDKO release, but it’s not as obvious as with the other images on this page. The telltale signs are the mountains in the background, which are a little oversaturated in the Face transfer. You may also notice the black areas at the side of the image, which are a recurring problem throughout the duration of the film. Although a closer call than the other images, I’d still say that the EDKO release wins this one hands down.

So there you have it—we finally an acceptable release of the director’s cut of Hero. To my eyes (and ears) the EDKO release is the uncontested champion of the extended cuts, with its infinitely superior video transfer and stunning Dolby Digital EX and DTS ES soundtracks. True, the Face release contains slightly more pictorial information on all sides, but what’s the point of having that information when the image is all but unwatchable? Having said that, the EDKO release is not without its faults—those of you with the original theatrical release may recall a problem with image ‘ghosting’, and it’s still here I’m afraid. Also, because this is a ‘bare-bones’ release, there are no extras to speak of. However, these are very minor quibbles about what is otherwise a very fine release. You can easily pick this disc up for under eight pounds if you shop around, and I heartily recommend it to all fans of this beautiful film.

Links:
Editorial by